As smaller films struggle and even name-brand titles flop at the box office, big studios are gobbling each other up. Netflix is changing the way people watch movies, and major new streaming services from Apple, Disney, Warner Bros., and other big studios are on the way. And every facet of the film industry is being questioned, from the diversity of its storytellers to the Oscar season goodies.
Before the virus compelled everyone to stay indoors, people were already becoming homebodies. An ever-expanding assortment of streaming services and increasingly sophisticated TV set-ups have made it unnecessary to leave the house for entertainment.
Movie theatre attendance was already plateauing before Covid, according to Paul Hardart, director of the Entertainment, Media, and Technology Program at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Meanwhile, ticket costs have been growing, with the average ticket price in the United States going from $5.39 in 2000 to $9.16 in 2020, reducing demand even further.
The pandemic only made matters worse. Movie studios turned to stream sites to debut their films when cinemas closed due to lockdown orders, typically being among the final places allowed to reopen following the temporary removal of restrictions.
Warner Bros. signed a partnership with HBO Max in December 2020 to premiere all blockbuster films on the streaming platform and in theatres simultaneously in 2021.
The arrangement will expire in 2022, after which the studio plans to resume prioritizing theatrical distribution, albeit on a different schedule. The exclusive window for showing movies in theatres will be cut in half, from 90 days in the pre-pandemic era to 45 days.
Streaming services have established themselves as viable alternatives to theatres, even as the movie business moves closer to normalcy. For studios, theatres, media distributors, industry workers, and customers, the future of film remains uncertain, with both problems and opportunities.
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